Hiking Ch-Paa-Qn Peak (Squaw Peak)

As summer was winding down, I realized I’d been pretty lame about getting out and doing many of the things I love to do most. We’d gotten so busy with other things that too many activities I’d written down at the beginning of the year to accomplish just hadn’t happened, and it was bumming me out. I think my mood was paying the price for it, not to mention my enthusiasm to accomplish other stuff. When I don’t get outdoors, my verve for living an active life suffers, and I turn surly. So I’ve been making a concerted effort to put in the time. I’m a bit backlogged in my posting about some of these outings, but over the next couple weeks I’m going to try and catch up.

Back on September 12th I resolved to climb the tallest peak in the area. I’ve lived in the shadow of Squaw Peak for much of my life. It looms over the Missoula valley at just a hair under 8000 feet. In this photo taken from The M overlooking Missoula you can see it way off in the distance.

It’s Indian name is Ch-Paa-Qn Peak. A few years ago there was some hubbub about renaming it; I think it is supposed to be called “Sleeping Woman Mountain” or something like that, but I don’t know that it’s ever caught on. The reason is “squaw” is considered by many to be a derogatory term, though there seems to be some debate about that. I’d certainly never call someone that, but I don’t know that a lifetime of knowing that mountain by a certain name could be changed by someone deciding I was supposed to call it something different now.

My parents live just below it, and the drive to the trailhead pretty much starts at the end of their driveway. I went up the evening of the hike with my mom to scout out where the trailhead actually is, as it had been close to twenty years since the last time I’d been up there. As we took the road up into the hills — a road I’d spent much time in my youth on foot, on horseback, and via snowmobile — the views that opened up were gorgeous. In this first shot (as always, click the image for a larger view), the pale green valley you see in the center of the frame, with the tree line, is where my folks live. The trees border Six Mile Creek, which runs right through their back yard.

This is a shot of Missoula off in the distance.

A little higher up, and zoomed in a little, is another shot overlooking where my folks live.

As one ascends to the top of the ridge, about 13 miles or so up, the descent down the north side is onto reservation land. This sign cracks me up. I don’t know that there is a metal sign in rural Montana that isn’t full of bullet holes.

On our drive up, we saw a black bear on the road ahead, but he quickly disappeared before I could take a shot of him with my camera. After we located the trailhead, we drove back down the mountain. First thing the next morning I drove back out there and headed up for my hike. It was a gorgeous day — sunny and warm.

From the road across the top, one can see the peak looming ahead. Quite a different angle from below, eh?

Here’s the sign marking the trail; it’s only three miles to the base of the peak itself, and not such a bad hike, though steep in spots.

At times the trail was in deep shadow, with high brush on either side. I was armed with bear spray, but didn’t see anything more than some scat. I did hear an elk bugling way off in the distance. That was exciting.

2.5 miles later I had crested a long climb and emerged into an area less cloaked in trees. For about a half mile the trail kind of circles around. If you look through the trees in this first shot, you can see the peak in the background.

Suddenly, flashing through the trees I saw a large, pale canine shape. I was momentarily excited — could it be a wolf? If you ask some of the more ignorant local types, you would assume these hills to be crawling with Canis Lupis as they hungrily destroy all traces of elk, deer, livestock and scores of hapless children. But no, these turned out to be a trio of dogs with a couple humans accompanying them.

We met here at a crossroads where two other access trails from other areas join the one I took. They converge at this sign post, and from there the trail extends fairly steep to the base of the last couple hundred feet or so of peak.

Where that stretch of trail ends, the intrepid hiker must basically find a path over what amounts to a pile of rocks to reach the summit. This photo doesn’t do it justice, as it is steep and many of the rocks are quite large. I was on all but all fours at times, making my way up. It is a moderately difficult climb, but not too rigorous; just time consuming.

This is a large cairn right where the trail emerges from the forest. It is to help a hiker find their way back to the mouth of the trail back down after descending from the peak. There were also several faded orange streamers tied to trees; I tied an American flag bandanna I was carrying.

As this shot from the top of the peak shows, without some point of reference on the way back down, how one could easily become lost just finding the path after finding a way back down!

here are a couple cairns at the summit as well. And a stunning view in every direction that these photos simply do no justice to. I feel it’s almost pointless to even post them, but what the hell.

Here is a view looking Northeast. The mountains are the Mission Range. About mid-frame would be the hills that comprise The National Bison Range, one of my favorite places on the planet. If I turned slightly left, due north, way off in the distance would be Flathead Lake, and beyond that Glacier National Park and Canada.

Here is a look a little Southeast, with Missoula way off in the distance.

And here’s yours truly, perched atop the world.

After I took this photo I hauled my ass back down out of the mountains. It was a long, sweaty day, but worth it on a multitude of levels. I’m looking forward to getting back up there again. I know Julia wants to go too; don’t know if we’ll make it before the snow flies, but make it we will!

12 thoughts on “Hiking Ch-Paa-Qn Peak (Squaw Peak)

  1. Ron Scheer

    >Thanks for taking us along. I've had mental pictures of the mountains around Missoula, but these (especially enlarged to full size) are grander than I imagined.

  2. BobWire

    >Two things: 1. Your parents live at the foot of the road and you're JUST NOW getting to it?!?2. Didn't you feel the overwhelming urge to get buck naked at the top? I did. (Well, I frequently feel that urge outdoors, and it can cause problems in a forest service campground on a busy weekend.)Okay, three things. 3. Excellent recounting of the hike, and outstanding pics. Thanks for sharing it with us!

  3. Chris

    >Ron, glad you liked it. Missoula really is in a beautiful valley.Bob, I'd been up there before, but it had been years since. Most of my bike riding/running/horseback riding years were spent east of that peak, more close to Edith Peak than Squaw Peak. As you know, there are countless roads and hidden paths back in there.As for the nudity, can't say it has that affect. I do like to strip down to a loin cloth and go tearing through the forest like a wild Cimmerian on occasion, at least in my own (juvenile) brain!

  4. Richard R.

    >What a great post, and the pictures are excellent, thanks very much indeed. Now, be kind to an ignorant outsider here. Is Squaw Peak considered to be in the Bitterroot Mountains? Or is it on the other side of the valley? I don't have a good east-west-north-south perspective on your location and hike.Again, great post, description of the hike, pics and all. Thanks!

  5. Chris

    >Richard, thanks. As to your question, I can say the peak is NOT in the Bitterroot range, though my next hiking post is for a trail that is. The 'roots are farther south, but not by much. I wasn't sure which range it is part of, and this from a website shows the answer really isn't that clear:Note: It is hard to determine exactly which mountain range this mountain belongs to, since none of the readily available maps demarcate the peaks within the Ninemile drainage. Looking at multiple map scales, Ch-paa-qn sits in a "no man's land" between the rest of the Couer d'Alene Mountains to the northwest, the Bitterroot Mountains to the south and southwest, the Salish Mountains to the north, and the Rattlesnake Wilderness/Garnet Range to the east. Caffrey reported the peak as belonging to the Coeur d'Alene in the Climber's Guide to Montana , and as such, will be considered part of the range unless someone can show otherwise.

  6. G

    >Chris, gotta hand to ya, you live in a spectacularly fantastic state. Puts my state to shame. Thanks for taking us a long on a fantastic hike.

  7. pattinase (abbott)

    >Just wonderful pics. Can you believe we have friends in their late sixties who are hiking the Himalayas in Nepal for two weeks in November. 15,000 feet and carrying their gear. I can hardly manage to climb up a sand dune without getting nauseated.

  8. bookishheather

    Thanks for writing this post! I lived in Missoula for about six months a couple of years ago, and whenever I’d walk from the Lower Rattlesnake (where I lived) downtown, I’d look at that mountain off in the distance and wonder what it was called. In the interim, I called it “Mount Pointy.” Thanks for helping me figure out its real name!

        1. Chris

          Well, if I didn’t live in Missoula I’d probably live in Portland myself. Will be making a lightning trip out that way in October. Keep in touch! I’d like to know if you do make that hike. . . .


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